How the Eagles Are Calling Plays Under Chip Kelly

The second the previous play was blown dead, Chip Kelly’s assistant was already going through his routine.

Standing on the sideline in a grey hoodie, grey sweats and an Eagles visor, he quickly looked down at his cheat sheet on the grass before running through the motions.

An NFL-version of charades. One second, he was adjusting an imaginary telescope. The next, flapping his wings like a bird.

There were three others joining him: two more assistants and wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur spoke into his walkie-talkie.

As the offensive players set up at the line of scrimmage, they turned their heads to the right, looking to the sidelines for the information they needed.

“The concept is, after you run a play, looking to the sideline and getting the signs so you know the plays,” said LeSean McCoy. “Everything’s sign language… everything from alignments to personnel to plays to formations.”

Ten of the 11 players are asked to look to the sideline. The one slight exception is the quarterback because he has the headset on and gets the call from either the coach or the offensive coordinator. In the case of Monday’s practice, it was Shurmur.

“We have to learn the signals here,” Michael Vick said. “I hear Pat, but I want to make sure I know the signals as well just in case the headset ever goes out. But pretty much getting it from Pat.”

In an effort to maximize efficiency and push tempo, the quarterback does not have to communicate as much to his teammates. In fact, DeSean Jackson said he had “no communication with the quarterback” to get the information he needed. Jeremy Maclin agreed, reiterating that he just looks to the sideline for the hand signals.

“Everything’s being called for the play,” Jackson said. “We don’t huddle up. The relay is from two coaches on the side, sending it in from Pat Shurmur. From there, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s going to be tough.

“It’s good to know the whole system, know the whole offense and be prepared because at any given time, regardless of if you’re the X receiver or the Z receiver, if you’re on the right or left side, it might be a different play call and you have to know what both receivers are doing just because the play might be coming your way.”

The placards that Kelly used at Oregon did not make their way to the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t show up at some point.

In Kelly’s first year as the Ducks’ head coach, the team used hand signals. But according to a report in The Oregonian, there was a sense that Ohio State might have gotten a read on the signals during the Buckeyes’ 26-17 Rose Bowl victory. As a result, Kelly decided to go with the placards, which featured photos of professional athletes, celebrities, TV personalities, wild animals and so on.

In both cases (the hand signals and the placards), the symbols are not chosen at random. For example, an Oregon player told The Oregonian in 2010 that the team might use “Mickelson” to signify a snap count on two because the golfer was always coming in second place.

“There’s tricks to everything that you learn,” Maclin said. “Once you get a certain concept down, most route signals go with the movements that they’re doing. Once you have an understanding of the plays, then the signals flow with that so that’s the way I picked it up and learned it.”

The one major change Kelly will have to account for at the NFL level is the ability to talk to the quarterback through the headset.

Rules stipulate that the line of communication starts when the play clock begins at 40 and remains open for 25 seconds before shutting off. Considering the pace at which the Eagles are moving, that will give Kelly or Shurmur a little extra time to go over the call with the quarterback.

“The difference here that we didn’t have in college is we can communicate to the quarterback, and there’s a lot that’s put on him,” Kelly said. “There’s a whole system involved in that. We can talk to him. Pat [Shurmur] was talking to the quarterbacks while we were out there.”

It remains to be seen how the headset will impact what Kelly requires of the quarterbacks pre-snap. But because it’s only one-way communication (the QBs can’t talk back) and the line shuts off at the 15-second mark, final responsibility will still rest with the quarterbacks.

“You just have to get comfortable with the different terminology and how you’re reading it and getting the reps,” said Nick Foles. “Most importantly is being on the same page with all the guys. …Defenses are going to give you different looks, and that could make the play totally different, so we all have to be on the same page.”

Added McCoy: “As far as just the cadence, if they want to change that [they can]. They might see something in the defense they want to change. That’s really it. We’re going so fast. There’s no time to make too many calls or make too many different adjustments. That’s kind of an advantage for us.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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